Review of GCN Race Pass (GCN+ Plus)

October 31, 2020

Review of GCN Race Pass (GCN+ Plus)

Note: the service called GCN Race Pass has been renamed as GCN+ (GCN Plus) starting February 2021. All the information in the review of Race Pass, below, still applies to the GCN+ service.

Background

This review is for the GCN Race Pass subscription offered in the United States. Because streaming rights vary by country, the availability of races in other locations may not be the same. You should check the list of streams available in your location before purchasing. GCN provides a fair and upfront list of what's available in each country, which is welcome. 

I tested GCN's Race Pass on iPhone 11 and an Apple iMac running OS X 10.15.7.

* Note: this article was updated on Feb 26, 2021 based on updated and clarified information from GCN. 

GCN Race Pass (GCN+ Plus) Review

The short summary - in light of the recent changes to the state of the streaming market for USA cyclocross fans, I do recommend the GCN Race Pass service. It comes with a few key downsides, however, which you should understand fully before subscribing. 

The big selling point here for Americans is commentary in English, a huge bonus compared with trying to follow along with Dutch audio. The Koppenbergcross stream I watched for testing today featured commentary from multiple-time USA national champion Jeremy Powers, for example, a big plus. 

Race Pass had very high audio and video quality during my test. The video looks beautiful on my iMac or using a laptop plugged into a flat-panel LCD TV using an HDMI cable. 

Race Pass costs $8.99/month or $49.99 annually for USA customers. I found the subscription process a little clunky. You may have previously encountered apps that won't let you make purchases in-app. This is an attempt for publishers to avoid the "Apple tax", so they often force you to subscribe in a web browser, then return to the app to consume the content. I found it strange that GCN Race Pass takes the opposite approach - you can only subscribe in the app on a mobile device, which is odd. Once your subscription is setup, you can return a desktop or laptop computer and watch via web browser (subject to a few limitations, see below). GCN notes that the ability to subscribe directly on the website will be added soon - this would allow customers who don't own Apple or Android mobile devices to access the service in the future.

There is a special 50% off the annual subscription price offer running during February, 2021 as a special introduction of the GCN+ re-naming.

Pros

  • Expert commentary, in English
  • Lots of cyclocross - including Superprestige, Ethias Cross (formerly Brico Cross) and Badkamers Trofee (what used to be the DVV series)
  • Plus a good amount of road cycling coverage
  • Excellent value
  • Replays available, so you can subscribe and then catch up on past races
  • Amazon FireTV companion app makes it easy to get GCN+ on your big screen TV without needing to plug in a laptop

Cons

  • Centered around iOS and Android apps - must use a mobile device to subscribe, before watching on the website
  • Web player functionality inconsistent
  • No more free GCN streams on Facebook or Trek Bikes
  • Races subject to geo-blocking

GCN Race Pass Tips

Let's go over some tips to get the most out of your subscription:

  • Don't use your "Apple ID" (i.e. "login with Apple") to subscribe. Make a separate login instead to keep the ability to stream on a wider variety of platforms. 
  • Using a VPN to circumvent geo-blocking based on your country location appears to be possible for GCN Race Pass. By reviewing GCN's "What can I watch?" page on a per-country basis, you may be able to select a country that has more content available. 
  • Consider holding off on an annual subscription until GCN publishes more of their 2021 streaming calendar. In light of races being cancelled due to COVID-19, a monthly subscription is safer at this time. 

GCN Race Pass Downsides

In the interest of getting Race Pass published ASAP, video streaming was only initially supported in-app. GCN then accounted the launch of their "web player" in August 2020. The web player allows you to use the same subscription you started on your mobile device to watch in a web browser window on your desktop or laptop computer.

The popular Safari browser on Mac OS X is not supported. - disappointing. Hopefully support for this browser can be added in the future. I did find that Race Pass / GCN+ worked as expected in the Google Chrome and Firefox web browsers, which is a reasonable workaround and those browsers are of course, free. 

There are also some restrictions that apply depending on how you signed up. Subscribe on your phone and you can watch content on other devices using the same credentials. But DON'T subscribe using your Apple ID - if you do, you can only watch on Apple devices, not Android. So it makes sense to specifically avoid using your Apple ID to sign up. 

In my conversations with GCN, they expect to add additional functionality to address this concern in the future. 

Sadly, GCN's Race Pass seems to have killed a couple free options for streaming. Trek appears to have abandoned their prior free streams of the DVV Trofee series (perhaps due to rights issues). I also enjoyed GCN's 'cross streams on Facebook and Youtube last year - they were free of course, but you could also chat with friends, invite others, etc. This is no longer possible on the closed-off Race Pass platform.  

Race Pass supports Apple's Airplay and Google Chromecast, plus a recently released Amazon Fire Stick app; but Playstation, Xbox, Roku, and other platforms appear to be locked out at this time, so make sure you have a way to get the races onto your big screen before you commit.

During my opportunity to chat with GCN staff (November 2020), they indicated that users should expect support for some additional devices in the coming months, which would be a welcome addition. This would allow users to follow races while hopping between desktop web browser, mobile app, and connected TVs seamlessly. 

What races can you stream on GCN Race Pass / GCN Plus?

This varies by country. Cyclocross fans in the USA will get plenty of European 'cross, including Superprestige series, Ethias Cross (formerly Brico Cross) and Badkamers Trofee (what used to be the DVV series). Generally, GCN Race Pass has most UCI-level 'cross races, with the notable exception of the World Cup events. Nor does the cyclocross World Championship appear on the GCN calendar. I believe NBC Sports has broadcast rights to the World Cup and World Champs in the USA. 

My review of course focuses on cyclocross, but this subscription also includes quite a few other road and MTB events. You can view the full calendar of GCN+ events for USA customers, which is now updated through November, 2021. You can toggle the country on that link to view the list for your location.

The newly-updated calendar includes:

  • Strade Bianche
  • Milan San Remo
  • Tour de France (highlights only, no live coverage)
  • the BinckBank Tour
  • Il Lombardia

In February 2021, GCN added feature films ("Netflix style") to their GCN+ offering, an additional value-add.

The bottom line...

I strongly recommend GCN Race Pass for cyclocross fans, the GCN+ service shines for American 'cross fans who want to watch European races. All the road cycling action, is wonderful and an extra bonus. Before you purchase, make sure the races you expect are available in your country.

Thanks for reading, and a special thanks to GCN for reaching out so we could publish the most accurate and current updates.

If you've read this far, you may also wish to check out my review of FloBikes, a competitor streaming service.



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